Two recent dispatches from the word front:
--Trivializing Trouble -- Many readers tell me they wish the ubiquitous phrase "gone missing" and its recent variation "went disappeared" (Ugh!) would go missing from TV news stories. They detest the term's inelegance and overuse.
I deplore it for yet another reason. To my ear, "gone missing" ...Read more
Kate Fogassa of West Hartford, Conn., asks why frankfurters are called "hot dogs."
Here's a question I can answer with relish!
Lexicographers have devised two conflicting theories about the origins of "hot dog." There's the cute, charming explanation that's probably false, and the carnivorous, butcher-shop explanation that's probably true.
One of my favorite words is "gobbledygook." Better make that, "One of my affinity-based verbal modules is 'gobbledygook.'"
This derisive term for wordy, unintelligible jargon was coined, appropriately enough, by a true maverick: Maury Maverick, a Democratic Congressman from Texas and the grandson of Samuel Maverick, whose unbranded cattle ...Read more
Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have been attacking the Iranian nuclear deal with the sword -- and the thesaurus.
"You guys have been bamboozled," Sen. Jim Risch told three cabinet members during a recent hearing.
"You've been fleeced," Committee Chairman Bob Corker told Secretary of State John Kerry. (He then compared ...Read more
We associate the color blue with honesty and integrity, as in "true blue." But the true origins of several "blue" phrases remain maddeningly elusive.
We don't know for certain why laws forbidding drinking alcohol on Sunday are called "blue laws," or why obscene movies or jokes are called "blue," or why sad people are said to feel "blue."
Popular TV series are probably the last places you'd expect to find grammar lessons, but occasionally the box can improve your vox.
In one episode of "Sex and the City," for instance, Carrie takes smug satisfaction when a female rival sends her a note that includes this embarrassing misspelling: "Sorry I couldn't be their."
Meanwhile, on "...Read more
Readers often send me fire arrows -- emails and letters ablaze with intense devotion to a particular grammatical or usage rule: "Children are 'reared,' not 'raised'!" "Never end a sentence with a preposition!" "Don't use 'done' to mean 'finished'!"
Whence the zeal?
In many cases, this passion about a particular linguistic issue was kindled ...Read more
Consider these sentences:
"The ice cream did not contain any artificial ingredients."
"The company is likely to earn a profit this year."
"Henry criticized the boss on two occasions."
Simple, straightforward and clear, right?
In fact, these sentences are not as trim and clean as they could be. They're flabby -- laden with a few extra ...Read more
Her Turning Point:: Her Divine, Glorious, Happy Divorce!Nelly Cotto
"Raw, eye-opening moments...that make you think--I got attached...in a way I didn't expect and then felt her triumph..." M.T. “There are very few books...that can touch the heart. You can feel Isabel's pain...But the joy she experiences...can be the reader’s joy as well.” G.M. Divorce ...
Q. Has the adverb "really" completely disappeared from usage? I hear sentences such as: "The shoes are real tight"; "The clerk was real nice"; "It was a real good movie." -- Robert Derosier, West Hartford, Conn.
A. Darn! Thanks to your question, now I can't get the lyrics from a song in the musical "Carousel" out of my head: "This was a real ...Read more
Q. What is the derivation of "pea coat" for the U.S. Navy jacket? It's time I knew, since I was in the Seabees for a few years. -- Kaz Glista via email
A. During college, I worked one summer for two former World War II Seabees who ran a driveway paving business. Nice guys, but, wow, the work was hot and hard!
"Seabees," of course, is a ...Read more
Whether you're headed for peak, park or porch this summer, tote along one of these new books about language.
Visiting England? Be sure to bring along Erin Moore's charming "That's Not English -- Briticisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us" (Gotham, $25.95). The Brits, Moore explains, are more subtle than we Yanks. While we ...Read more
Can you name the innovations that necessitated these new terms: "static billboard," "wet signature," "paper book," "traditional cigarette"?
Think "electronic" -- electronic billboards, e-signatures, e-books and e-cigarettes.
"Wet signature," "static billboard," "paper book" and "traditional cigarette" are retronyms -- words or phrases coined...Read more
Do you know that "masterful," which now means "skilled," once had a distinctly negative meaning: "domineering, dictatorial"? Likewise, "meticulous," which now means "scrupulous, very careful," once meant "overly careful, obsessive."
Linguists call this improvement in a word's meaning "amelioration." I call it "breaking good."
But other words...Read more